TRAVERSE CITY — When giving interviews, lots of rock-star types don't know what media outlet they're talking with, when they're touring in that area, or even who, exactly, they're talking to.
Not Lawrence Gowan.
The Styx lead singer knew exactly when the band was playing in Traverse City.
"We're playing there June 29th," Gowan said right off the bat, during an interview with the Record-Eagle.
The classic rock act — which boasts 16 top-40 hits in the U.S. — kicks off the National Cherry Festival's Bay Side Music Stage performances Saturday at 9 p.m. Tickets are available in advance (www.cherryfestival.org or 947-4230) and at the door.
Styx is best known for hit songs "Lady" (No. 6, 1975), "Come Sail Away" (No. 8, 1977), "Babe" (No. 1, 1979), "The Best of Times" (No. 3, 1981), "Too Much Time on My Hands" (No. 9, 1981), "Mr. Roboto" (No. 3, 1983), "Show Me the Way" (No. 3, 1990), "Don't Let It End" (No. 6, 1983) and "Renegade" (No. 16, 1978). All those hits were from before Gowan joined the band in 1999, replacing Dennis DeYoung as lead vocalist and keyboardist.
Gowan had a quite successful career of his own prior to joining Styx. He had 13 top 40 hits in Canada, but none were released in the U.S. due to the structure of his record deal with Columbia.
In 1997, he opened up for Styx twice — once in Montreal and again in Quebec.
"I had never seen Styx live," Gowan said. "It went extremely well. It was one of those Hollywood nights where they took note.
"I told them, 'We should do something together again in the future.' I assumed that meant open for them somewhere else in Canada, or maybe even opening for them in the U.S. But then I never heard from them for a couple years. Two years later, they give me a call and say, 'Hey, we want to do some work together. We have some shows booked and we'd like you to play keyboard and sing lead on these songs.'"
Gowan said they hit it off, and it was only three shows into the tour that the rest of Styx decided to keep Gowan on a permanent basis.
The band has "a huge backlog of material," the 56-year-old said, but hasn't been able to record any of it because of their busy touring schedule — which is fairly demanding for a group featuring six members, five of whom are in their 50s and 60s.
"We have lots of new material," Gowan said. "The problem is the lovely dilemma the band is facing. I say that a little bit facetiously, because the band would love to take off the six months necessary — which, by the way, would probably turn into a year — to make a new record, because we have the new material. At this point in the band's career, with this kind of insatiable demand for Styx to play around the world, it's very difficult to allow for the amount of time it would take to make a full album. ... It's hopefully going to happen soon."
Part of not recording new material, Gowan said, is that they already don't have much room in their live set for songs from their last two or three albums, and only occasionally get to play a few songs from "Brave New World" (1999), "Cyclorama" (2003) and "Big Bang Theory" (2005).
In a week where Styx play three shows, there's also two travel days. That leaves two days, and most of the time the members fly back to their different hometowns — Toronto, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago and Austin, Texas — for a day or two with family.
Gowan was featured on a 2006 episode of MTV's "Cribs," even though he said his home "by rock star standards is pretty modest."
And now Traverse City will be their crib for a day, when they open up the Cherry Festival's entertainment.
"The new band doesn't have any particular snobbery when it comes to the size of the venues we play or what sort of events we play, because we just love to play," Gowan said. "That's at the core of every decision. We've played the Super Bowl, we've played at Wembley (Stadium) several times and the Sweden Rock Festival and in Japan in some giant (arenas). But we also love playing theaters, in festivals and whatever puts the year together. Whether it's 20,000 people or 2,000, it's a great event for us to be involved in."